Michael Barone, writing in the Examiner, agrees with Karl Rove that for Repubicans “it won’t be enough to surf voter dissatisfaction with Mr. Obama and the Democrats.” Instead, says Barone, Republicans will have to look beyond mere opposition to President Obama’s policies and reliance on issues that have brought them political success in the past, and formulate a new agenda. He suggests that this agenda focus on education and pro-family tax reform, as well as an immigration policy that favors high-skill immigrants.
It’s probably foolish to disagree with Barone and Rove on matters political, but my sense is that, in 2010, Republicans can, and should, be content to surf voter dissatisfaction with President Obama and the congressional Democrats. In 2010, voters probably will be looking to correct the error they believe they made in giving the Democrats nearly unchecked power over the government — an error they excuse by their belief that Obama would not govern so consistently from the left. Voters will not be unduly concerned about what Republicans would do — beyond standing in the way of the overly-empowered Dems — because they understand that Republicans will not be running the show after the election.
There is a downside, moreover, to attempting to run on specific reforms measures. While Republicans stand no chance of enacting reforms in 2011-12, specific proposals might undermine the unity of the looming anti-Democratic vote. This prospect is particularly worrisome given the growing populist sentiment in the country which has caused some to predict that a third party might emerge. If Republican reforms proposals resonate with populists, they might scare off moderates. If they don’t resonate with populists, the party might not win the full support of this critical portion of its base.
In sum, discontent with Democrats, assuming it carries over into the election season, provides Republicans with the opportunity to be all things to all disaffected voters. But only if they avoid making new proposals.
In 2012, Americans will elect a president and Republicans might be within shouting distance of majorities in both chambers of Congress. Thus, by then voters will want to know what Republicans stand for. The party will be defined for that purpose in 2012 by the presidential candidate it nominates.
So Barone and Rove are correct that Republicans should be thinking about what they stand for, not just what they stand against. But this is a bridge we won’t cross — or perhaps blow up — for another two years.
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